Like so many others across America, AFT Massachusetts teachers and school support staff are putting aside their own fears during the COVID-19 pandemic to help maintain a sense of normalcy for their students. One big area of focus for AFT Massachusetts members is food security.
“For many of our students, school is the one place where they can count on a full meal every day. With schools closed, AFT Massachusetts members across the state are working hard to make sure that our students, their families, and the whole community have the food they need,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “I’m incredibly proud of the work AFT Massachusetts members are doing to support all our students during this challenging time.”
Here are some of the ways AFT Massachusetts members are working to ensure their students have food during this crisis:
The City of Chelsea has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the state, and many low-income families in Chelsea need help putting food on the table amid rapidly rising unemployment. In late March, the Chelsea Teachers Union launched a fundraising campaign that has raised over $55,000 to date. The funds are being used to directly support families of Chelsea Public School students and the Chelsea community in general by supporting food banks and other agencies throughout the city, including a food pantry being run by Chelsea Collaborative.
“Watching families stand for hours in the rain only to get turned away when the pantries run out of food highlights just how critical this need is, and how much more we can still do,” says Kathryn Anderson, Vice President of the Chelsea Teachers Union. “I'm proud of our members for using union power to fight back against the systemic inequalities that have made Chelsea the COVID hotspot that it is. We're using existing relationships with community organizations like GreenRoots, Chelsea Collaborative, and the school committee to identify the most critical needs.”
More than 500 donors have already contributed to the fundraising campaign, which is still collecting donations here.
“Dozens of Chelsea Teachers Union members have contributed in response, whether it's through signing a petition for a Healthy Housing Guarantee; donating to our GoFundMe; bagging rice, beans, and other staples for distribution at pop-up food pantries; or delivering food to the homes of those in quarantine,” said Anderson. “This is what means to fight for the schools and communities we deserve!”
Members of the Boston Teachers Union have been handling delivery of prepared meals made by volunteers with the organization Violence in Boston Inc. and the Grove Hall restaurant Food for the Soul.
Dozens of volunteers have been preparing more than 1000 meals a day, and around 20 Boston Teachers Union volunteers make deliveries each day, bringing meals to Boston Public School students, senior citizens and community members.
“This is about service for our community, the heart of people in Boston” said Janina Rackard-Vickers, a paraprofessional at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain, who has been coordinating the deliveries. “We’re delivering as late as 10 at night, knocking on doors and caring for people who are hungry.”
“Being a teacher at Breed Middle School, one of the core values that we instill in our students is ‘shared responsibility,’ and what better time to practice what we preach then during a time like this?” said Lynn Teachers Union member Allison Lebel. “Volunteering at Brother’s Table has provided me with such a rewarding opportunity to help others and remain positive during this unprecedented time.”
The volunteers deliver more than a week’s worth of food at a time to families who are not able to access free meals at My Brother’s Table or at the food distribution sites set up at four of Lynn’s public schools.
“During the pandemic I haven’t been able to provide my students with the same day-to-day personal support that I can while school is in session,” said Lynn Teachers Union member Katie Morris. “Volunteering to help with food packaging and deliveries for the greater Lynn community at My Brother’s Table has been a meaningful and humbling way to help support not only the food needs of my students but the community that surrounds us.”
Members of the Salem Teachers Union have been volunteering, a week at a time, to help distribute food at either school or community sites. On April 17, before the Patriots Day weekend, they helped distribute 700 meals in one day.
“I’m so proud of the way Salem as a whole community has rallied to look out for the social and emotional welfare of the students and families of Salem Public Schools, from food services, to our custodians, to the bus drivers, admin, and members of the Salem Teachers Union,” said Ben Chertok, a Music Teacher at the Collins Middle School.